It happens for a moment. You put yourdown on a counter at the checkout or feel a small bolt as you exit the subway, to later realize that your phone is gone. No matter how you lose it, whether it's theft or a simple mistake, losing your phone is a stressful experience .
Not only does it eliminate your access to the rest of the world, but your phone is the most personal device you own. And replacing it is a costly inconvenience.
If your phone goes missing, don't panic! There are tools built into every Android phone that make it easy to lock and track a lost phone. But first, you need to take some steps now to set yourself up for success if and when your phone doesn't go away – even if you just left it in the house.
Create a secure lock screen
Do yourself a favor and enable password code and fingerprint authentication. Do yourself a favor and don't use face recognition on your Android device.
On most Android devices, the technology used forwith something as simple as a photo of your face. Google's are the exception here, because they use a more reliable system similar to .
Then, create your password and configure fingerprint authentication in the Settings app under the Security section. I realize it can be inconvenient to scan a fingerprint or enter a PIN every time you want to use your phone, but the idea that someone has access to your photos, banking apps, emails and the rest of your personal information is scary .
An extra step to unlock your phone is worth the effort when considering the potential effect of exposing your personal information to a stranger.
Google Find My Device
Every time you sign in to an Android device with a Google Account, Find My Device is already on. Find My Device is what you use if your phone is ever missing to track, remotely lock and erase it.
You can verify that Find My Device is enabled by opening the Settings app and going to Security & Location > Find My Device . Alternatively, if your device does not have a security and location option, go to Google > Security > Find My Device .
Find my unit should be on. If not, slide the switch to the On position.
Samsung Find My Mobile
If you have a Samsung phone, and in addition to Google's Find My Device service, you can set up Samsung's Find My Mobile service. Not only does it provide you with a backup service that you can use to track a lost phone, but it also provides you with tools that Find My Device does not have.
With Samsung's service, you can do things like force remote control of backups or see if someone has. You must have a Samsung account to use Find My Mobile.
Open the app Settings on your Samsung phone and go to Biometrics and Security > Find My Mobile . If you logged into your Samsung account during the initial device installation, Find My Mobile should already be enabled. If not, take a few seconds to log in and activate Find My Mobile.
Lock and track a lost phone remotely
Use Find My Device
Using Android's baked-in service requires you to remember one thing: android.com/find. That site is where you will go in the unfortunate event that you lose your phone. Make sure to sign in to the same Google Account linked to your Android phone.
Not near a computer? You can use another Android device and the Find My Device app, which you need to download separately from the Play Store. Immediately after you sign in to the site or app, Google will try to find your phone.
A warning will be sent to your phone to tell who has it that it is being tracked. Use the menu on the left side of the Find My Device website to play a sound (useful if you missed it in your home!), Lock the device, or delete the device completely.
Selecting Secure Device locks your phone, displays a message you select on the lock screen and logs out of your Google Account. Don't worry, you can still find the phone after it's locked. Using Google Pay for mobile payments will prevent anyone from locking your phone to use your phone to make a purchase.
If you use the Delete Device feature, you will no longer be able to trace the phone. Book this feature as a last resort.
If the thief turns off the phone, you cannot trace it until it is turned on and has a mobile or Wi-Fi connection. Google will send an email when it finds your device.
When you find your phone, you must enter your PIN or password to gain access. That should also get rid of the message about the lock screen. You may also need to sign in to your Google Account, just to verify that it really is that you are coming to the phone – you do not need to turn anything off in the Find My Device app.
Samsung Galaxy owners have the advantage of using Google or Samsung's respective services to find a lost device, but I recommend that you use Samsung's offer. As you can see below, the added features are invaluable.
To trace a lost device with Samsung's service, you need to visit findmymobile.samsung.com. There is no companion app, so you have to use a mobile browser on another phone or computer.
Log in with your Samsung account and then select your lost device on the left side of the screen. A map will appear where your phone is currently located and a menu item will appear on the right side of the screen.
Start by locking the phone, which displays a personal message on the lock screen, turn off your Samsung Pay cards and prevent the phone from being turned off.
Then create a backup of your phone. If you lose it for good, you want an up-to-date backup of your phone. If your phone is moving locations, use the track location feature.
Enabling this feature tracks your phone every 15 minutes. Finally, activate the Extend battery life feature – this will disable almost everything on the phone but location tracking.
Like Google's Find My Device service, Samsung's service only requires you to enter your PIN after finding your phone. You don't have to go back to the site and turn off any of the tracking features.
Don't confront thieves
If your phone has been stolen and you can trace its location, do not try to reset it yourself. Doing so can cause you or anyone else to be harmed, and despite the importance of the phone, it's simply not worth it.
Instead, contact local law enforcement and let them know you need help recovering a lost or stolen phone that you have been able to trace to a specific address.
Contact your carrier, submit an insurance claim
If it becomes clear that you will never get your phone back, contact your carrier and report your phone as lost or stolen. Doing so will blacklist the phone from the operator's database and prevent another person from using it.
When you call, your carrier will want to cancel your service as well. This is a good idea if you want to prevent someone from using your phone. However, keep in mind that if you still track your lost phone, you will lose a cellular connection to it – and unless your phone is registered in any way on a Wi-Fi network, you will lose the ability to track it.
Finally, if you pay for insurance on your phone, you must file a claim and pay deductible to get your replacement phone. Start the insurance claim process through your carrier, who will then likely refer you to the third insurance company that will replace your phone.
Good luck! We hope you never have to go through the emotional roller coaster to lose a phone, track it down and try to get it back.
Originally published last year. Updated regularly.